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The Water That Fuels California’s Power Grid

How many gallons to run that microwave?

Lauren Sommer / KQED

A natural gas power plant in Long Beach that uses "once-through" cooling.

We hear a lot about how green our energy is in California. Instead of using coal, the state runs on natural gas and increasingly, renewable power.

But there’s a hidden cost to our energy supply: water use. In fact, every time you turn on a light, it’s like turning on your faucet. It’s been calculated that it takes 1.5 gallons of water to run a 100-watt light bulb for 10 hours.

The way water and power work together is a lot like a tea kettle. Steam drives the power industry.

How Power Needs Water

You can see it at the Gateway Generating Station, a natural gas power plant in the northeast Bay Area. The plant looks complicated but making power is pretty simple. Step number one: burn natural gas. That produces a lot of heat.

“You’ve got 1,700-degree exhaust energy, or waste heat,” says Steve Royall of PG&E, who is giving me a tour through the maze of pipes and compartments. The heat hits pipes that are filled with water and the water is boiled off to create steam. That’s step number two: make steam to turn a steam turbine, which is attached to a generator. It’s the water that’s making the power.

Source: National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Illustration by Andy Warner.

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Jean-Michel Cousteau on Oceans, Energy, and Our Collective Fate

Explorer keeps his father’s legacy alive by shining a light on the world’s oceans

Craig Miller

The California coast near Pigeon Point.

When ocean explorer and documentary filmmaker Jean-Michel Cousteau brought his environmental message to Silicon Valley, I caught up with him to discuss climate change; President Obama’s energy policy efforts; and AB 32, California’s response to climate change.

Jean-Michel Cousteau is the son of legendary ocean explorer, Jacques Cousteau, and chairman of Ocean Futures Society, a non-profit dedicated to exploring, protecting and educating people about the world’s oceans. He was vocal in condemning BP for its Gulf oil spill and has frequently highlighted the link between climate change and the state of our oceans and coastline. Continue reading